Amanda Knox: 'Stillwater' Movie Repeats 'Fiction' Pushed By Italian Prosecutor

Aug 7, 2021

Amanda Knox — who once spent almost four years in an Italian prison for murder — was long ago exonerated by Italy's highest court, which ruled that "stunning flaws" in the police investigation had inappropriately led to Knox's conviction for the murder of her roommate, British exchange student Meredith Kercher.

It's been 10 years since Knox was freed from that Italian prison. But, despite attempts to move on with her life, the "Amanda Knox saga" continues to follow her. The new film Stillwater, which fictionalizes elements of her story, has prompted Knox to speak out about how it feels to lose control of her own narrative.

"Whenever I encounter the world, I am constantly in conversation with a horrendous thing that happened, that I had no control over, that I had no agency," Knox told NPR's Sarah McCammon in an interview on All Things Considered. "And the identity of Amanda Knox is always, always, always viewed through that lens."

In the case of Stillwater, directed by Tom McCarthy and starring Matt Damon, the Knox-inspired character is reimagined as Allison, a college student abroad who is convicted of murdering — and indirectly responsible for the death of — her roommate who is also her lover. The choices made to establish Allison's character are reminiscent of how Italian prosecutors had presented their case against Knox when they called Kercher a victim of a drug-fueled sex game gone wrong.

"As a storyteller, I firmly believe that art is very much entitled to take from reality, and in fact it always does," Knox said. "That doesn't excuse the kinds of ethical considerations in choosing what stories we tell and how we tell them."

McCarthy told Vanity Fair that he was directly inspired by the Knox story, and couldn't help but imagine what it would be like to be in Knox's shoes.

Knox's story, the director and co-writer said, ultimately became a jumping off point for the movie.

"We decided, 'Hey, let's leave the Amanda Knox case behind,'" McCarthy told the magazine. "But let me take this piece of the story — an American woman studying abroad involved in some kind of sensational crime and she ends up in jail — and fictionalize everything around it."

But Knox says that McCarthy didn't completely fictionalize everything; he simply "chose to explicitly repeat the fiction that was invented by my prosecutor."

Nor did McCarthy "do the empathy and effort to reach out" to understand how his re-telling might impact her, she said.

"My story is not the sordid trial and saga and the murder, but it is the experience of a person who is swept up in something way bigger than herself that she had nothing to do with, who survives a very harsh prison environment and then who enters into a world that has pre-defined her based on a false premise," Knox said. "That's an interesting story. And it's not the story that Stillwater told."

After the publication of the Vanity Fair story last week, Knox criticized the film, in a Twitter thread and in an Atlantic essay, for profiting off of her name and likeness without her permission.

Representatives for McCarthy have yet to respond to NPR's request for comment. In an interview with Variety, McCarthy said he empathizes with Knox and what she went through. "She has platforms to speak her truth and engage with the media and she is exercising her absolute right to do so," McCarthy said. "But, by her own account, she has not seen 'Stillwater' and what she seems to be raising feels very removed from the film we actually made. 'Stillwater' is a work of fiction and not about her life experience."

In 2008, the Perugia resident Rudy Guede was sentenced to 16 years in prison for Kercher's murder. Last year, a court said he could finish the rest of his sentence by doing community service.

Tyler Bartlam and Natalie Friedman Winston produced and edited the audio version of this story.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

A new film tells the story of an American student studying abroad in France. She ends up in prison, accused of murdering her roommate. And her father, played by Matt Damon, goes on a pursuit to prove her innocence. If the story sounds familiar, it's because, as Vanity Fair put it, the director, Tom McCarthy, was, quote, "directly inspired by the Amanda Knox saga," a phrase Knox says inaccurately frames the truth about what happened.

As you may recall, Knox was studying abroad in Italy when her roommate was killed. She and her boyfriend at the time were accused of murder and held in an Italian prison for four years before her conviction was eventually overturned. And then in 2015, Italy's highest court fully exonerated Knox. Now Knox is speaking out about the film "Stillwater." In a viral Twitter thread and a piece in The Atlantic, She condemns the film for profiting from her story without consulting her. But she goes beyond that, pointing out that despite her exoneration, she's often left out of the conversation with no say in the narrative about her life.

Amanda Knox now joins us to discuss this further. Welcome to the program.

AMANDA KNOX: Thank you for having me.

MCCAMMON: When did you first hear about this film? And what was your reaction when you saw how it was being compared to your story?

KNOX: I was first alerted to its existence like anybody else - trailer came out, headlines started coming out saying yet another Amanda Knox retelling. And my initial reaction was, OK, this again. And it was to - it had sort of fingers-crossed moment that they were going to tell the story in a responsible way. The reason being is because in the past, when people refer to the Amanda Knox saga, the unfortunate thing is they're referring to the murder of Meredith Kercher by Rudy Guede, a tragic series of events that my name, above all, has become associated with.

And my hope in Tom McCarthy's retelling is that it wouldn't continue to frame the story that - of my experience as young woman involved in said crime. And in fact, I was disappointed to find that the premise of Tom McCarthy's retelling is Amanda Knox character has a sexual relationship with the Meredith Kercher character. She has direct knowledge of the crime and is indirectly involved and responsible for it. And this is a continued representation of the case that is based on a false narrative that continues to impact me to this day.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. How does it affect your life today?

KNOX: My identity is, first of all, associated with a series of events that I had nothing to do with. So any time I try to speak about my own experience as a wrongfully convicted person, I am constantly put up against the victimhood of Meredith Kercher, whose own victimhood is - has in a large way been erased. Her name is often forgotten. And as a consequence, people look at me and think, well, you're just lucky to be alive, Amanda. You're the one who survived. You should just be grateful.

And they don't realize that when they say things to me, like, oh, you know who's never going to get married and have children and live her life and tell her story? Meredith. So you should just shut up, Amanda. Like, that is in a deep way continuing this ongoing victimization that I have experienced that is tangential to Meredith's murder, but is not the same. And I think that this idea that there can only be a single victim in this story is very, very dishonest.

MCCAMMON: And we should mention we did reach out to the film's director, Tom McCarthy, for comment, but did not receive a response. He did say to Vanity Fair, in reference to your experience, quote, "let me take a piece of the story. An American woman studying abroad involved in some kind of sensational crime, and she ends up in jail and fictionalize everything around it."

Is there a way that a story like that could have been told without it seeming like an exploitation of your story?

KNOX: You know, as a storyteller, I firmly believe that art is very much entitled to take from reality. That doesn't excuse the kinds of ethical considerations in choosing what stories we tell and how we tell them because they do have direct impacts on the real world, particularly when they are directly inspired by real-life events and real-life people.

The question that I want to pose to Tom McCarthy and really my Twitter thread and my Atlantic article is a hand that I'm extending to him to say, hey, I would love to talk with you about how you chose to fictionalize this narrative because I think that you aren't fictionalizing - I mean, you fictionalized, sure, this character of my father, who you did a lot of empathy work. You reached out to people in Oklahoma, so - to better empathize with that experience of being a father.

You chose to explicitly repeat the fiction that was invented by my prosecutor. And you didn't do the empathy and effort to reach out to me to understand how your story and the way you were going to portray the Amanda Knox character and the use of my name and the promotion of the film was going to impact me directly.

MCCAMMON: So how might that have looked if a Hollywood director came to you about this film or if someone came to you in the future and said, we want your opinion, how would that look? What kinds of things would you say?

MCCAMMON: I mean, it really would depend upon how they approached me and what kind of story, again, they said that they would like to tell because one of the things that I think has been greatly overlooked in this whole narrative is, first of all, of all the people in this whole saga, the Amanda Knox saga, as it's called, I was one of the people with the least agency. And, if anything, my story is not the sordid trial and saga and the murder, but it is the experience of a person who is swept up in something way bigger than herself that she had nothing to do with who survives a very harsh prison environment and then who enters into a world that has pre-defined her based on a false premise.

That's an interesting story. And it's not the story that "Stillwater" told. It's not a story that I have heard told and, honestly, in large part because no one's really asked me to tell my story.

MCCAMMON: The last thing I want to ask you - the news emerged this week that you're expecting a baby. And first of all, congratulations.

KNOX: Thank you.

MCCAMMON: I know you're chronicling that with your husband and your podcast. And it does make me wonder, how do you think that your message and your mission will shift moving forward, particularly as you bring a new person into the world and enter a new chapter of life?

KNOX: Well, it all goes back to, who does the story belong to? And one of my ongoing struggles has been that people have taken parts of my life that I don't feel belong to them especially and are not in the public interest. I no longer have the right to privacy that I ever had before. And it's a little bit a response to that problem that I choose to take to be the first to tell my own narrative and to ask myself, how do I go forward and protect the people I love, particularly this new life that I'm going to bring into the world, from this ever-consistent content creation?

So as much as I am helping other people to tell stories, I'm also trying to start a conversation about, where do we draw the line? And when can someone say, you know what, you don't have the right, this is not in the public interest?

MCCAMMON: That was Amanda Knox. She co-host the podcast "Labyrinths." Amanda Knox, thank you for your time.

KNOX: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.